So, what a difference a week makes. Barnsley and Burnley may just be two letters and a row of big hills apart from one another, but in terms of Rovers performance this match was a world away from last Tuesday’s South Yorkshire derby showing. So happy are Doncaster supporters of the turnaround in fortunes that I’ll probably even get away with that awful introduction.
Sean O’Driscoll was forced into changes in personnel yet again thanks to injury, the absences of Matt Kilgallon, Mark Wilson and Neil Sullivan paving the way for the inclusion of George Friend, new signing Paul Keegan and debutant ‘keeper Gary Woods. All three would prove their worth over the course of the night though perhaps the most important man in the starting line-up was Brian Stock. Since their skipper limped off against Scunthorpe on New Years Day Rovers had failed to win in his absence.
The return of Stock worked wonders for the team, who appeared much more confident in the midst of their captain. John Oster in particular, freed from the pressure of being the midfield’s central pivot looked more relaxed and creative in his play, whilst others who had faced criticism in recent weeks looked to raise their game. The post-match messageboards were full of praise for Sam Hird and George Friend, which for both was a refreshing change.
Debutant Gary Woods was the first of the two ‘keepers into the action as Jack Cork got down the right for the visitors and delivered a near-post cross. Woods got down to meet it, and though he spilled it first time he did manage to react quick enough to collect at the feet of Charlie Austin. Rovers first sight of goal came from distance with Oster shooting from twenty-five yards, but his effort flew wide.
Rovers began to put the pressure on the Clarets twenty minutes in, Jamie Coppinger trying his luck with an angled strike from distance which was deflected behind. From the resulting corner the ball came to James O’Connor, but he could only fire wide. Billy Sharp was next to threaten, heading wide from a James Chambers cross and then James Hayter had a great opportunity, ghosting round the back of the defence to meet a perfect lofted through-ball from Oster, but he couldn’t connect right and scuffed his effort wide.
Though Burnley were enjoying some spells of possession they were unable to force any clear cut chances from which to test Woods, a wayward Chris Eagles strike being all they really mustered. Rovers continued to pose the greater threat as first Oster and then Hayter struck efforts off target. Late in the half came Rovers best chance as Sharp fed the overlapping Coppinger on the right. Coppinger’s fierce drive was saved by Lee Grant, diverting the ball fell to the feet of Hayter, but the striker’s follow-up was turned off the line by defender Danny Fox.
That was to prove Hayter’s last contribution to the action as he was replaced by Steve Brooker at the interval. As has perhaps come to be expected it was Burnley who looked the more lively after the break as they forced a couple of corners in the opening five minutes of the half. Dean Marney thought he had put the Clarets in front soon after as he poked the ball beyond Woods, but the offside flag had long been raised for the midfielder as he edged into the area for the through-ball too early.
A long ball downfield brought a chance for Billy Sharp as he and Grant both raced to meet it on the edge of the area. Both connected but the ball dropped to Sharp’s feet and with Grant stranded way out of goal the Rovers forward tried to chip towards the unguarded net, but Grant recovered well to make an impressive stop. On the hour mark though the deadline was finally broken, albeit in somewhat fortuatous circumstances. Coppinger whipped an invited angled ball in from the right and first to accept the invitation was defender Michael Duff who met the cross to head perfectly into his own top corner and put Rovers 1-0 up.
Naturally Burnley began to pile on the pressure to find away back in to the game, but Rovers defence continued to stand firm and chances for the Clarets remained few and far between. Tyrone Mears got to the byline to cross for Jay Rodrigues, but his far post header sailed harmlessly over, and from a corner soon after Eagles put a tame shot wide of goal. Rovers threw on Dennis Souza to help repel the aerial bombardment in the closing minutes and it did the trick as Rovers held on for a much-needed victory.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1); Gary Woods; James Chambers, James O’Connor, Sam Hird, George Friend; Brian Stock (Dennis Souza), Paul Keegan, John Oster (Dean Shiels); Jamie Coppinger, James Hayter (Steve Brooker); Billy Sharp
subs not used: Jordan Bradshaw, Byron Webster, Ryan Mason, Waide Fairhurst
booked: Dean Shiels
Burnley line-up (4-4-2); Lee Grant; Tyrone Mears, Clarke Carlisle, Michael Duff, Danny Fox; Wade Elliott (Chris Iwelumo), Dean Marney, Jack Cork, Chris Eagles; Jay Rodriguez (Ross Wallace), Charlie Austin (Martin Paterson)
subs not used: Brian Jensen, Graham Alexander, Andre Bikey, Steve Thompson
booked Danny Fox